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忠烈精武門 (1977)
Return of Bruce

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 12/12/2007

Wong arrives in the Republic of the Philippines looking for his uncle. He has traveled in style on a blindingly white cruise ship. As he walks down the gangplank the camera slowly tracks him from head to foot, lingering on the flare of his bellbottomed slacks and the chunky heels of his boots. Bruce has returned or Tony Manero has been transplanted from Brooklyn.

“Return of Bruce” uses many of the conventions of Hong Kong action movies--for example the best way to attack a compound full of armed men is for one martial arts expert to jump over the wall to fight them; Jiro, the Japanese fighter says, "I'm afraid your kung fu is not good enough" and the main goal of the bad guys is to close down one kung fu school. Its problems begin with its star who simply doesn't have the charisma, star power and screen presence necessary to carry a movie, even one with expectations as limited as this. While Bruce Le is certainly no Bruce Lee he also isn't the league of Bruce Li and is hampered by astoundingly bad action direction--whoever decided that he should imitate Lee imitating Muhammad Ali doing the "Ali shuffle" made a mistake. While his constant grimacing, growling and mugging were bad enough, trying this signature move that was a central image of early 1970s film and sport simply underlined the inadequacy of Le's impersonation. The best chance for a truly good fight was at the end when Bruce Le squared off against the great Lo Lieh but it was over too quickly and was thrown away with gimmicks--Lo was avenging Jiro, his brother who used the Red Palm technique while Lo had the Double Red Palm. Given the time, competent editing and decent camera placement the two of them could have ended things with a rousing one-on-one battle. But at least it was a blown opportunity, unlike most of the rest of the movie during which there was never much threat of entertainment.

Inept looking fight staging can be forgiven in some movies. “Seoul Raiders” is one example—only divine intervention could make Richie Ren seem like a fighter and no god was going to waste his/her energy on that thankless task. So lazy, sloppy or just poorly done action direction happens but when it happens in an action movie, when the only reason to watch is to see the fights, the result is dreadful which “Return of Bruce” is. During some stretches the actors, especially Bruce Le, work to reveal the actions and motivations of the character through speaking or miming the words or characteristics in the screenplay. This is also known as acting, of course and is particularly trying since none of the main actors know how to do it. When Lo Lieh steps through a door in the last five minutes and delivers competent line readings it is as if Sir John Gielgud dropped in to do his “Ages of Man” show.

“Return of Bruce” condemns a practice that just about everyone will find abhorrent: kidnapping young women and selling them overseas into forced prostitution. If anyone needs further convincing the traffickers employ a group of thugs who say that “kung fu is a sissy’s game” when they break up the school. The women are kept in a basement cell and each is wearing a sheer negligee, so that, according to the evil boss, they won’t try to escape. He clearly isn’t very good at his repulsive business since given a chance the women immediately opt for the embarrassment of appearing on the streets of Manila in heels and little else over shipment to a foreign brothel and an early death.

Other than this high-mindedness the only other positive aspect to “Return of Bruce” is the actress who plays the girlfriend of the Boss and who helps the kidnapped women escape. She is arrestingly beautiful—pun intended, she plays an undercover cop—and her lovely face fills the screen enough for one to realize that director Joseph Kong Hung knew he should play the few winners he had. Her outfits are also striking and include a red velvet pantsuit with a fedora made from the same material and a denim number with extremely short shorts and matching jacket, the generous cut of the jacket emphasizing both the brevity and very close fit of the shorts. She is tired of her double life and wants to return to normal cop duty but we aren’t too concerned with her plight since she, like most the rest of the cast, is unencumbered by the ability to create a character with whom we can identify.

There is one extremely annoying character, annoying even by comic relief standards of Hong Kong action or police films. He is a stereotypically gay guy—very slim but in a skinny not a fit way, wears very high-waisted white bellbottomed trousers, a shirt with leg-of-mutton sleeves open to the waist and a bandana. He flounces, poses and trips quite often and is as thoroughly offensive and annoying as can be. His relationship with the Boss, who he calls “master” is the only slightly complex one in the film. It is one of mutual need but strong denial from the Boss but since the filmmakers didn’t pursue it I won’t either.

A few of the fights look better than most—although “don’t look as bad” would be a more accurate if less charitable way of putting it—but it was impossible to tell from the chopped and cropped version I had on DVD. If a rating of zero or negative one were possible this would qualify for it.

Reviewer Score: 1